Sentry Tournament of Champions First Round Leader Prediction and Picks
Sentry Tournament of Champions First Round Leader Prediction and Picks
It is the first PGA Tour event of 2022, and we now need to figure out who can get off the fastest start after a lengthy layoff. There is inevitably going to be some rust among the field, some have played more recently than others, with some downing tools for the most part since the Tour Championship and Ryder Cup, and others only playing one or two events. The Hero World Challenge was our most recent reference point and a few in the field this week played there, so the temptation would be to target those as they are the most “match fit”, but I think the break since then is enough to balance the field out.
You can check out my early preview on the event itself for more of my general thoughts ahead of the week and my current selections in the outright market here.
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How do we go about spotting value in the First Round Leader markets?
This tends to change week-to-week depending on weather and course conditions but we tend to target early tee times when playing Stateside, as that seems to give players an edge as they’re out in generally calm conditions, with the best greens and smaller crowds unless in a marquee group, giving them a chance to string together their round in peace.
This week, keep an eye on the weather forecast as this event is well known for its “trade winds” and you do not want to get caught in the wrong side of those. As it stands, it looks calm all week, so I don’t think there is any extremes to worry about.
Given the small field, there won’t be a huge gulf in difference between the first person out and the last however, so I think you can target most tee times if you like the chances of a particular player.
Who in this field started fast on Tour last season?
Here are the 10 fastest starters in the field based on Round 1 Scoring Average in the 2020/21 PGA Tour season.
Cameron Smith (1st overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 68.91) – Low Opening Round – 62
Jon Rahm (2nd overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 68.95) – Low Opening Round – 63
(The Northern Trust)
Jason Kokrak (4th overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.28) – Low Opening Round – 62
(Sony Open in Hawaii)
Patrick Cantlay (T7 overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.50) – Low Opening Round – 62
(AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am)
Xander Schauffele (T7 overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.50) – Low Opening Round – 66
Patrick Reed (9th overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.55) – Low Opening Round – 64
(Farmers Insurance Open)
Seamus Power (10th overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.59) – Low Opening Round – 65
Sam Burns (16th overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.67) – Low Opening Round – 64
Justin Thomas (17th overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.68) – Low Opening Round – 63
(The Northern Trust)
Talor Gooch (24th overall in 2020/21) – Scoring Average 69.88) – Low Opening Round – 64
What score is required to lead after round 1?
This is of course a bit of a guess and subject to change, dependant on the course, but 65 is a good target this week. If we average out the leading round 1 scores on the PGA Tour from the 2020/21 season, over 45 individual events we get an average leading round 1 score of 63.97.
The difference this week is we are playing the only Par 73 on the PGA Tour circuit, so while -7 or -8 on the first day is still the target as usual, it will be a 65 or 66 this week.
The favorites in this market correlate with the favorites in the outright market, but may provide better value if you think that either one of the favorites can start fast but fade away, or they go wire-to-wire, in which case you could double down with an outright and a first-round leader bet.
Jon Rahm (+1200)
Since the start of 2016, Jon Rahm has led or co-led 8 times in total, with four of them being outright leads.
In the FedEx Cup playoffs, Jon Rahm co-led in each of the three events after day one, firing rounds of 63, 64, and 65 respectively.
In his four starts at this event, Ram has broken 70 once on day one (69 in 2020) and on the other three occasions opened with rounds of 70 (twice) and 71. Even when 2nd in 2018, he started slow with rounds of 71-70, waiting until the weekend to shoot 66-69. Looking through his record, he has shot two rounds of 66 here and a final round 67 last year, so he’s never hit a 65 that may well be required to lead here, and he tends to start the event slowly, so I will pass on him given his form at the back end of 2021 and the extended break.
Justin Thomas (+1400)
Justin Thomas ranked 17th last season in Round 1 Scoring Average, 18th the season before and 3rd in 2019. In fact, the only time he’s ever ranked outside the top-18 in first-round scoring was in 2016, when he ranked 71st.
What this means is, in general you can rely on Thomas making a fast start, and that is certainly true at this event. In his six starts here, Thomas has sat 1st (2021) or 2nd (2017, 2019 and 2020) four times after the opening round, shooting 65, 67, 67, 67 respectively.
Thomas also led the Sony Open after round 1 in 2017, starting with a 59, a week after winning this event. He went on to do the Hawaii double, so it is clear he likes this part of the world and manages to avoid Mai Tai’s on a Wednesday night.
Given he played both the Hero World Challenge, the PNC tournament with his father and stayed in Hawaii last week and warmed up at a nearby course, I think he’ll be raring to go here.
Collin Morikawa (+1600)
Since turning pro in 2019, Collin Morikawa has led three times after round, leading on his own on all three occasions. The first of those came when opening with a 65 at the 2020 Sony Open, which is a good indicator of what he could do here.
In two starts here, he’s finished 7th both times, and started slowly on both occasions (71 in 2020, 69 in 2021) but last year he shots rounds of 65 on Friday and Saturday and firing that number on Thursday this time around would likely enough.
He’s not a notoriously fast starter, instead being solid each round and growing into the week, as he ranked 43rd last season and 55th the season before in Round 1 Scoring Average.
I do think he can make a fast start this week, but I consider Thomas’ claims much stronger and therefore feel there’s little need to go here.
Bryson DeChambeau (+1600)
Bryson DeChambeau has held four first-round leads since the start of 2016, two of which came on the European Tour, and three of which were outright leads, with the co-lead coming on day one of the 2019 Masters.
Bryson only ranked T43 in Round 1 Scoring Average last season, but he ranked 3rd in 2020, so we know he can make a fast start, it just depends what he’s been doing since the Ryder Cup.
We haven’t seen him on the golf course since Team USA dominated at Whistling Straits, as he instead spent the offseason in front of a simulator chasing his ball speed goals.
With that said, the most exciting thing about Bryson is we have no idea until Thursday what to expect from him, and he could certainly pick apart this golf course.
I respect the chances of him winning here, but I won’t rush to the ticket window for him to lead after Round 1.
Viktor Hovland (+1600)
Viktor Hovland still only has one individual first round lead to his name, back on the Korn Ferry Tour, while he and Kris Ventura led the Zurich after round one last year.
He does start fast enough, being within three of the lead on 12 separate occaisons, including four times since March 2021, but like Morikawa and DeChambeau, I respect his chances of winning far more than I do his chances to lead after round one, and I don’t think the price is juiced to the point where I need to take a flyer.
Patrick Cantlay (+1800)
Since returning to the Tour full-time in 2017, after a three-year absence, Cantlay has ranked T11, T11, T21, T8 and T7 in First Round Scoring Average. Clearly then he likes to start his weeks fast, and he has led or co-led three times since the start of 2018.
His most recent first round lead came at Pebble Beach last year where he shot 62 to lead by two, but he was within two of the first round lead at both the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship during the FedEx Cup Playoffs. In total, Cantlay has been within two of the first round lead 20 times since 2011.
Solely at this event, Cantlay has been three behind after day one on each attempt, getting steadily better each year (70, 69, and 68).
His finishes here read 15th, 4th, and 13th so it has been a mixed bag, and with the extended layoff for him I will pass on him reluctantly this week, while respecting his round 1 scoring average.
Justin Thomas (+1400)
This was as straightforward as it comes for me. I understand this is a short price for a first-round leader selection, but the field is limited and the case is so obvious.
As stated above, Thomas has been inside the top-2 after day one, in four of his six starts here, including co-leading here 12 months ago. His opening round 59 in the Sony Open just down the road in 2017 gives me further confidence also.
Since the start of 2014, Justin Thomas has led or co-led 11 times, most recently at The Northern Trust back in August, where he shot a 63. He was also one back of the first round lead at the Hero World Challenge in December, opening with a 67.
Seamus Power (+4000)
Irishman, Seamus Power had a career-year in 2021, and got his breakthrough win at the Barbasol Championship. This week, he has the opportunity to make his way into the top-30 in the World Rankings and while I am uncertain of his chances of winning in this company, I do think he can start fast.
In the past two seasons, he has ranked 10th and 12th in Round 1 Scoring Average and while a lot of that is down to limited starts, he certainly has the ability to fire low rounds, especially of late.
The last time we saw Power was at the RSM Classic and that week he fired an opening round 63 to sit three off the first round lead as scoring was ridiculously low that day. That was the sixth time in 2021 (calendar year) that he was within two of the first round lead, and he opened with a 65 to sit one back on Thursday when winning the Barbasol Championship.
This is his first start at this tournament and while he’s played the Sony Open in Hawaii four times, he’s never had great success there (best finish of 49th) so there are obvious concerns, but I am willing to chance that this new version of Power can succeed here.
Power ranked 21st on Tour in Approaches 125-150 yards last year, so his wedges and short irons were in good shape and that will lend itself to some birdie chances here.
Kevin Tway led here in 2019 and he had started the season well, winning the Safeway Open the October before, and Power is in similar form despite his breakthrough coming in the summer. He has started the season with three top-12’s in six starts, including a T4 last time out at the RSM Classic. Tway is the most recent example of someone you perhaps wouldn’t expect to lead here after any round, and highlights that Power is more than capable of doing the same. As an outsider I think he represents some decent value, given his propensity to start fast and the fact he’s one of just four players to gain strokes in all four strokes-gained categories, alongside Rahm, Cantlay and Sam Burns.
Matt Jones (+6600)
This is a real flyer because as I have said already it is hard to find an outsider in this market in such a limited field full of elite players, but there’s a few things I really like about Matt Jones.
Firstly he’s won two Australian Open’s, the Houston Open, and most pleasingly the Honda Classic, all of which are wind-affected, and provide some crossover here. Another couple of standout results are his 3rd place finishes at Bay Hill and the St Jude Classic.
The main issue with Jones is that he would probably need the wind to get up, to have a realistic chance of winning, but I do think he is capable of having one low enough round to lead after Thursday.
He’s led six times after the first round in his career, most recently at last year’s Honda where he won in March and he opened that week with a 61. He’s also started well with a 67 at the Sony in 2020, sitting two shots back after day one.
Jones played here once in 2015, breaking 70 three times and finishing in 11th which was a respectable finish. He didn’t find a round that would be low enough to lead on Thursday but I do think, as evidenced by his 61 at the Honda that he’s capable of doing it, should he catch fire on the greens as we know he can.
As one of the rank outsiders, I think he is worth chancing.
Tom Jacobs is the host of the Lost Fore Words golf podcast and has been writing betting articles on golf for the past decade. Tom also co-hosts the DP World Tour Picks & Bets show on the Mayo Media Network, so has his finger on the pulse on all the major Tours. A long-suffering Nottingham Forest fan, Tom also enjoys watching Soccer at the weekend, and was delighted to see his Forest team win promotion this season!